Right-wing event fiz­zles amid crack­down

Coun­ter­protesters swarm closed park in San Francisco

Houston Chronicle Sunday - - NATION | WORLD - By Paul Elias and Sud­hin Thanawala

SAN FRANCISCO — A planned right-wing rally in the shadow of the Golden Gate Bridge that was down­graded to a news con­fer­ence at a small park fiz­zled fur­ther on Satur­day, af­ter San Francisco po­lice swarmed the park and city work­ers erected a fence around it.

An or­ga­nizer for the group Pa­triot Prayer later spoke in sub­ur­ban Pacifica with a hand­ful of sup­port­ers, af­ter civic lead­ers and po­lice in San Francisco re­peat­edly voiced con­cerns that they would draw an­gry coun­ter­protesters and spark vi­o­lence in the area known as the cra­dle of the free speech move­ment.

Or­ga­nizer Joey Gib­son de­nied his group was look­ing for trou­ble. He said mem­bers had re­ceived anony­mous threats on so­cial me­dia and feared civic lead­ers and law en­force­ment would fail to pro­tect them.

“My hope is to be able to talk to nor­mal cit­i­zens with­out all the ex­trem­ists,” Gib­son, who iden­ti­fies as Ja­panese Amer­i­can, said at the news con­fer­ence.

Other speak­ers in­cluded African-Amer­i­cans, a Latino and a Samoan Amer­i­can. Sev­eral said they sup­port Don­ald Trump and want to join with mod­er­ates to pro­mote un­der­stand­ing and free speech.

The piv­ots by the group didn’t de­ter more than 1,000 left-wing coun­ter­protesters from de­scend­ing on Alamo Square park, where they sus­pected right-wing sup­port­ers still might show up.

“San Francisco as a whole, we are a lib­eral city, and this is not a place for hate or any sort of big­otry of any kind,” Bianca Har­ris said. “I think it’s a re­ally pow­er­ful mes­sage that we’re send­ing to peo­ple who come here to try to spew mes­sages of hate that it’s just not wel­come in this city.”

Po­lice closed the park early in the day and looked on in riot gear as the demon­stra­tors gath­ered around its perime­ter wav­ing signs con­demn­ing white su­prem­a­cists and chant­ing, “Whose streets? Our streets!” Hun­dreds of oth­ers took to the streets in the Cas­tro neigh­bor­hood.

Ear­lier in the week, San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee raised con­cerns that Pa­triot Prayer would at­tract hate speech and po­ten­tial vi­o­lence. U.S. Rep. Nancy Pelosi, a fel­low Demo­crat who rep­re­sents San Francisco, called the planned rally a “white su­prem­a­cist” event.

Gib­son said his group dis­avows racism and ha­tred and in­sisted his gath­er­ing would be peace­ful. He said Satur­day in a phone in­ter­view that he felt like San Francisco’s Demo­cratic lead­ers had shut him down.

“They’re def­i­nitely do­ing a great job of try­ing to make sure my mes­sage doesn’t come out,” he said.

Mem­bers of the group ended the news con­fer­ence abruptly when they heard mem­bers of an anti-fas­cist move­ment were headed to Pacifica.

The San Francisco Bay Area is con­sid­ered a cra­dle for free­dom of speech, and po­lice in San Francisco tra­di­tion­ally have given demon­stra­tors a wide berth.

How­ever, the deadly con­fronta­tion in Char­lottesville, Va., on Aug. 12 dur­ing a rally of white su­prem­a­cists led San Francisco po­lice and civil lead­ers to re­think their re­sponse to protests.

When Gib­son can­celed the Golden Gate rally on Fri­day, he said his fol­low­ers would in­stead at­tend an anti-Marx­ist rally on Sun­day in nearby Berke­ley. But a short time later, the or­ga­nizer of that rally called it off.

Or­ga­nizer Am­ber Cum­mings said in a lengthy state­ment is­sued via Face­book that she had “grave con­cerns for the safety of the peo­ple at­tend­ing my event.”

Cum­mings said the event was planned “to speak out against the po­lit­i­cal vi­o­lence hap­pen­ing to peo­ple who do not agree” with left-wing ide­ol­ogy, and that the mean­ing was be­ing lost as rhetoric around the rally es­ca­lated.

The left-wing group By Any Means Nec­es­sary, which has been in­volved in vi­o­lent con­fronta­tions, had vowed to shut down the Berke­ley rally.

Marcio Jose Sanchez / As­so­ci­ated Press

Pro­test­ers con­front San Francisco po­lice of­fi­cers Satur­day out­side of Alamo Square Park. Of­fi­cers had closed the park to pre­vent vi­o­lence ahead of a planned news con­fer­ence by a right-wing group.

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